New coach, new caddie, fresh outlook for three-time Kingsmill champion Cristie Kerr

Kerr (@CKGolferChic) eighth on money list and world rankings entering @KingsmillLPGA

JAMES CITY — Sterling career notwithstanding, Cristie Kerr was a most unlikely champion at the Kia Classic in March. She hadn't won since the 2013 Kingsmill Championship, hadn't won since the radical lifestyle change that first-time motherhood brought later that year.

Most telling, Kerr, by her standards, was playing lousy golf. Indeed, she had failed to finish among the top 30 in her previous four tournaments, her first such stretch in eight years.

Kerr was so fed up after tying for 45th at the JTBC Founders Cup in Phoenix that she parted ways with her coach of 11 years, Bryan Lebedevitch, and reunited with Michael Hunt, with whom she worked in the late 1990s.

One week later, she won the Kia.

"I just needed a new perspective," Kerr said Tuesday as she prepared for this week's Kingsmill event. "We kind of hit it off again, and we won immediately. … So obviously there was some stuff in my game I needed a fresh look at.

"I just knew as hard as I was working, I just wasn't seeing the results, for as detail-oriented as I am, that I should have been."

Hunt and Kerr examined everything. Short game, ball-striking, overall approach.

And their partnership was no one-hit wonder. Kerr enters this week with ties for seventh, 18th and second in her last three starts. She's No. 8 on scales macro (world rankings) and micro (this year's money list) and a clear threat to win here for the fourth time.

Defending Kingsmill champion Lizette Salas on Tuesday called accompanying perks such as a reserved parking place "really, really cool." Well, given Kerr's record on the River Course, she should have a key to the clubhouse, a lifetime Busch Gardens pass and an unlimited tab at Fat Canary.

Kerr prevailed here by five shots in 2005, by two in 2009 and in a playoff with Suzann Pettersen two years ago. She has three additional top-10 finishes on the Pete Dye track, including a second in 2003, the LPGA's Kingsmill debut.

With 17 career Tour victories, Kerr reminds us that the young crowd does not completely own the circuit. She's 37, the season's oldest champion by eight years and a striking contrast to teenagers Lydia Ko and Hyo-Joo Kim, the world's Nos. 1 and 5, respectively — Ko was born in 1997, Kerr's rookie LPGA season.

"Definitely my motivation is to win as many times as (Cristie) has out here on Tour," said the 25-year-old Salas, without a victory since her first a year ago. "Same as Karrie Webb. She's been out here for a very long time. That just shows how great our tour is. We've had a lot of success with players being really young, and me being in my mid-20s now, I feel like a veteran. Still, it's my fourth year out here and I'm still learning.

"But it's great to have the older players having success and the younger players having success as well. That's what makes our tour so different."

Still learning? As Kerr and Webb, a 40-year-old Hall of Famer who won last season, will attest, learning is a career-long process.

Kerr is learning to balance parenting and golf, and to absorb the teachings and guidance of Hunt and her new caddie, Gregory Johnston.

"Finally started with Gregory this season," Kerr said. "I've been trying to hire him for like five years."

No wonder. Johnston is among the LPGA's most-respected caddies and has worked for, among others, Juli Inkster, Lorena Ochoa, Michelle Wie, Brittany Lincicome and Pettersen.

Johnston's father, Art, passed away in March, causing him to miss the Founders Cup tournament.

"The next week we went out and won for him," Kerr said.

Kerr set a Kia Classic record with a 20-under-par aggregate. She birdied four consecutive holes on the back nine Sunday and won by two strokes.

Almost like it was fated.

"I felt it all day," Johnston told U-T San Diego's Tod Leonard that day. "We got a couple of breaks, balls kicking into fairways … putts that weren't supposed to go in, went in."

That victory, in Carlsbad, Calif., was the first for Kerr and husband Erik Stevens' 17-month-old son, Mason.

"I think when I got in contention last year, I thought about winning a little too much, wanting him to be on the green," Kerr said during the Kia's post-round news conference. "But you know, everything happens for a reason, and last year he couldn't have run out to meet me. So maybe that was fate, too."

Mason is with Kerr again this week, and she's again bunking with her long-time Kingsmill hosts, the Whittakers. Familiar surroundings and a confident swing bode well.

"When you're hitting it better and chipping it better and putting it better," Kerr said, "it's easier to get the mental stuff right."

David Teel can be reached at 757-247-4636 or by email at dteel@dailypress.com. For more from Teel, read his blog at dailypress.com/teeltime and follow him at twitter.com/DavidTeelatDP.

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